A Very Disorienting Conversation With Graham Stokes
Options Magazine sits down with Rhode Island’s local Queer movie sensation Graham Stokes to talk about his many films, including his latest, Disorienting Dick, which has its world premiere at 7 pm on June 6 at the Route 1 Cinema Pub in Attleboro, MA.
The first time this writer sat down and chatted with Graham Stokes, it was late at night in a booth by the window at Downcity, a Queer-owned and operated restaurant. The year was 2011. Stokes wore a shimmery, short-sleeve, white button-down shirt that was almost completely undone and skinny jeans that only a twentysomething can pull off, while I likely wore something even more tragic but just as twinkie. Stokes was working side gigs and dinner theater. I was either working a minimum wage job at the Providence Place Mall or, more likely, I was unemployed.
Eleven years later, I sit down to another evening with Stokes in a booth by the window. This time at the new Queer-owned Res in downtown Providence. I now dress in hoodies and jeans but am better at holding a job, while Stokes wears a black shirt that has the majority of its buttons fastened. Instead of dinner shows, he is the star of the latest independent LGBTQ movie, Disorienting Dick, about a young man whose mother is a right-wing Cranston politician pushing him into conversion therapy. For the last five years, Stokes has played a part in every LGBTQ independent movie that has come out of Rhode Island. If you have seen a Queer movie recently, chances are you have seen Stokes’ face … along with many other parts of him.
Stokes has always had a kind smile on his face and a wild look in his eyes. There is never a dull moment with him. So I can only imagine what he is going to tell me about his latest movie, Disorienting Dick. Is the plot about phallic hypnosis? Or aliens abducting men named Richard? Maybe Stokes will claim he is the secret leader of the alphabet mafia?
Yet, before I can dissect the likely disorienting plot of his current film, I want to know how he got into making independent films in Rhode Island with such Queer plots. Most of the movies he has been in come from Scorpio Film Movies and are written and directed by Richard Griffin, though Griffin’s latest film with Stokes is produced by A Reasonable Moving Picture Company. Griffin’s studio is made up almost completely of Rhode Islanders, many of whom are working-class members of Queer and Trans communities who just love making films for LGBTQ people filled with important messages about the world today, with frequent amounts of full-frontal male nudity.
The first film Stokes appeared in was the 2017 flick, Strapped for Danger, a movie that starts off with a group of gay gogo dancers robbing customers inside The Dark Lady who evade the police by hiding out at an allegedly straight frat house doing some very queer things to their pledges. It is fun, gay, and certainly not for children. While it isn’t for everyone, Strapped for Danger offered a refreshing take on LGBTQ films for its uniquely Providence Queer working-class vibe that is very much the opposite of the perfect upper-middle-class image portrayed by so many West Hollywood-centered LGBTQ movies.
“It was sorta a fluke,” Stokes explained about how it all started. Stokes got a message at 11:30 at night while working the overnight shift at a call center. The casting director for Strapped for Danger explained it was an emergency casting call for the next morning. Stokes was up for it. He explained that she was thrilled and then asked him if he was ok with nudity? “And I said ‘sure if you’re ok with me looking like a zombie?’”
Stokes clocked out from the night shift at 8 am and was on set by 9 am. “Just enough time to grab a 5-hour energy shot,” Stokes explained. The first scene they shot had Stokes naked on the floor with three other guys. They thought he did such a great job they wrote in a special scene just for him where an undressed Stokes is a pledge that licks the boots of an equally undressed fraternity brother who is pontificating on the sexual allure of the right-wing philosopher Ayn Rand.
Stokes showed a knack for embracing the weird and the very Queer. This got him a role in the studio’s 2018 film Code Name: Dynastud, about a right-wing government outlawing homosexuality in 2024 (which feels way too on-point given recent developments in the United States). He also had a bigger part in Strapped for Danger 2, where he played a caricature of a French cinematographer. He also was in the company’s horror movie, Before the Night is Over. That film got Stokes’ genitalia onto the celebrity Reddit forums, though apparently, they attributed his Gingling Johnny to the wrong man.
By 2019, the film studio was ready to put Stokes in a starring role in a full-length film titled Disorienting Dick, yet before filming could begin, the movie was put on hold at the start of the pandemic. This led to Stokes starring in the short film Gay as the Sun, a movie about body acceptance. It was written specifically to be a COVID-safe filming. It was shot completely outside at the Dyer Woods Nudist Campgrounds in Foster, RI with no crew “and no wardrobe,” as Stokes enjoyed pointing out. Stokes explained, “It was a labor of love for the art. We made it for us.”
Now, three years after they started this project, they are finally able to share their work with the world. I am interested in learning about this new film. So before I see a preview screening, I ask Stokes what I should know. With a smirk, he replied “There is a great deal of nudity. There is definitely smut in it — but it’s not porn.”
Disorienting Dick Is The Wild Ride Rhode Island Needs
After my chat with Stokes, I was sent a copy to preview the film. Before I turned it on, I knew to expect a weird independent movie, but I didn’t expect it to be such an enjoyable viewing that holds an eerie mirror up to Rhode Island and America.
Disorienting Dick starts off with a series of broad stroke imagery to set the tone. The first is a 1950s-style education reel with a naked Dick Whiteman, the movie’s star played by Graham Stokes, where a narrator tells you that by the end of the film, he is going to be great. The movie explains that knowing the ending isn’t the point, it’s the journey that matters, and it is certainly an upbeat adventure. This vignette quickly jumps to a political commercial for a Cranston Rhode Island right-wing politician, Maureen Whiteman (Leslie Racine Vazquez), and then goes right into her berating her submissive male staffer about it, while her son, Stokes, shyly watches with his fiancé, Pat Whiteman, played by Sarah Reed.
From browbeating her staffer to creepily flirting with the leaders of the Rhode Island Republican Party, Vazquez steals the show at the beginning of the film. This is in stark contrast to Reed and Stokes, whose characters start off wooden and tragic – and they are not really what matters at this point anyway. Quickly into the film, Stokes is believed to have homosexual tendencies and is shipped off to a clinic for conversion therapy run by Hyde Hippocampus (Terry Shea) with the help of Nurse DeFarge (Amy Webster Thompson). Shea and Thompson are zany, fun, and occasionally horrifying in their performances.
Many films at this point in the story slow down and become dull, but Disorienting Dick did not suffer this fate. It kept up the fast fun pace throughout the entire film. No sooner are Shea and Thompson prodding Stokes and preparing to use conversion therapy on him than their characters’ alter egos come and abduct Stokes to their affirming LGBTQ center where a group of attractive nurses assist our confused Dick.
We see dream fantasies filled with tasteful – and occasionally not-so-tasteful – nudity, hilarious group therapy sessions, dramatic family disputes, frequent kidnappings, and daring rescues performed by sock puppets. Yet, for all the fun, weirdness, and male nudity, there are important issues being discussed, from the very real harm conversation therapy causes to the disturbingly on point future Rhode Island and America are in danger of experiencing – especially noticeable in one scene where a newspaper headline flashes on the screen that reads “Roe v. Wade Overturned!” This fun yet thoughtful journey is meant to move us, and so too, it moves the characters.
Shea fabulously holds viewers' attention as the mad doctor. Vazquez channels the power of all the Karens into her animated performance of a right-wing politician that could be easily mistaken for a much younger Rep. Pat Morgan. While the constant movement of the story keeps us going and drives the development and growth of our protagonists. By the end, Stokes and Reed’s characters have changed, and we see their wonderful acting talent, as their characters transform from wooden caricatures of people into fully formed identities that speak with a realism rarely seen in independent LGBTQ films.
Disorienting Dick delivers on entertainment, is visually enjoyable to many a gay viewer, while providing representation for much of the LGBTQ community, and hands Rhode Island and America the warning we need. While the film is certainly not for children, this writer believes it is a must-watch for Queer and Trans communities.
Disorienting Dick world premiere is on Monday, June 6 at 7 pm at the Route One Cinema Pub,652 East Washington Street in North Attleboro, MA. The movie will be coming to streaming services. Go give it a watch. You won’t regret it.